The Toronto Casino

While waiting in line at the supermarket a thought occurred to me. I had plenty of time for the thought as the lady at the head of the ‘1-8 items’ line was buying a huge number of lottery tickets. She didn’t appear to be rich or poor, just another Saturday evening hopeful. The grim expression on her face told me that there would be no hurrying this transaction and so I cut my losses and trundled over to another line.

The thought was this; why is there such an outcry against a casino in Toronto when there are so many ways already available for people to gamble? In addition to lottery tickets there are charity bingo games, scratch cards, online terminal poker, online casinos (not yet legal in Canada), Pro Line (betting on sports results), track races e.g. Woodbine, hockey pools and existing casinos such as Casino Rama, Niagara and so on.

Just a few weeks ago, I was a strong and vocal opponent of any casino in Toronto. My reasoning; that gambling is a tax on the poor, people with addictive personalities and those who don’t understand probability. Also, while some jobs would be created, the likely return to the city would be small.

I guess I was OK with saying no to a Toronto casino until the MGM proposal came along. After all, it’s easy to say no to a change from the status quo. MGM wishes to build an extensive installation on the current CNE grounds. Displaced parts of the CNE (not the midway) would move across Lakeshore Boulevard and the casino itself would be part of an entertainment complex that would include a hotel, public plaza, restaurants and theatres. Historical buildings such as the Stanley Barracks would remain in place. In addition to the jobs generated by building the complex, the grossly under-utilized CNE grounds would have a function for the 49 weeks when the CNE isn’t running. Let’s face it, CNE jobs are for three weeks and don’t pay that well. Most weeks of the year, you could fire a proverbial cannon through the Princes’ Gates and not hit anyone. A casino complex would create a huge number of jobs, not all of them well paid but there would be many terrific opportunities for people such as George Brown College grads who would probably prefer a chance to work in Toronto. The casino would attract visitors from outside of the region and their money spent on other Toronto businesses as people looked at what else the city has to offer. All of these people and companies would be subject to property, HST and other taxes.

According to an excellent CBC article, if you buy 50 tickets a week, you can expect to win a lottery jackpot once every 5000 years. Lotteries typically return around 45% back to players in the form of jackpots and other prizes. There are no rules about how much money is returned to bingo players but it’s probably not much over 50%.

What about casinos? In Ontario, payouts are regulated by the province. By far the most popular gambling form in casinos is the slot machine. Legally these can return no less than 85% but typically are set to 91-93% on average. Roulette (double zero) returns about 94% while card players can see better odds. A skilled blackjack player can achieve a 99% return.

I doubt if there are many of us who have resisted the urge to gamble at one time or another. Gambling exploits the clash between chance, greed and common sense. In addition, there seems to be a component that ties into a primitive part of the brain concerned with reward. There’s no doubt that some people cannot control the urge to gamble and casinos enable these people to lose money at an alarming rate, perhaps ensuring ruin for their family. How can we allow this to happen? Well, how can we allow people to drink, smoke, overeat and whatever. We allow them because they’ll do it anyway. They can go to an Ontario casino or elsewhere such as Las Vegas. Instead of driving gamblers to illegal online or casinos outside of Ontario, wouldn’t it be better to control and tax it here? We’re probably home to a large number of problem gamblers anyway, why not allow them to gamble here and offer help if they ask for it? Let’s face it, there is only one place where a large casino complex can bring the numbers to the table and that is Toronto. What about the reports from places like Windsor which have found that the casino generates very little revenue for other businesses? Wouldn’t that happen here in Toronto? I can answer that with another question; have you been to Windsor lately? There’s not much there to keep anyone entertained. Toronto is a major tourist attraction. The casino would be just one part of a visit to the city.

Lastly, all of the casino proposals are selling a dream. The dream of happy gamblers, floods of visitors and money for the city. Companies like MGM are merely bidding to manage the implementation of the dream for a fee. The overheads and the profits will be the responsibility of the taxpayer through the OLG. Based on the number of lobbyists pushing casinos, there is much money to be made. Because of so many gambling outlets available, it will be a mistake to say no to a casino in Toronto. However, let’s make sure that Toronto City Council hires a decent negotiator and gets the very best deal for the taxpayer so that in addition to the high paying jobs, there will be a meaningful revenue stream for the city along with a boost to tourism that will float everybody’s boat.

6 thoughts on “The Toronto Casino”

  1. I have little problem with people gambling. It’s their money, after all, and they should be allowed to spend it as they wish, even if it’s not how I would.

    I disagree, though, that a casino would create jobs. Here’s how I see it, in a nutshell:
    1) Torontonians gamble. They spend money that otherwise would have been spent in Toronto at other establishments. It goes to an American company. The net increase in jobs? 0. The jobs have merely been moved from somewhere else to the CNE.
    2) Ontarians from outside Toronto gamble. Same principle: people spend money that they otherwise would have spent in their own communities in Toronto. Toronto wins; Hamilton loses. I dislike this—it’s pitting Ontarian against Ontarian.
    3) Americans gamble. We win. We beggar the US economy (such as it is) and enrich our own. Fantastic idea—but let’s do it right and put the casino really close to the Americans, so we can get •lots• of their money. Oh. Wait. We did that.

    The way I see it, then, Roy, is that a casino is really a choice between jobs we know are at an American company doing socially uninspiring things and jobs elsewhere in the city. I’ll take jobs elsewhere in the city.

    (I’ve made a few assumptions: that the savings rate and velocity of money won’t change and that multiplier effect of the casino and other enterprises are the same. I think those are safe assumptions.)

  2. I disagree. Now Roy, I think you have been sold on the supposed bells and whistles that have been presented in the MGM’s proposal. Now you base your argument largely on, ‘well hey if people are going to gamble, we matter as well tax them, after all people gamble all the time! In addition, there would be jobs all year round! JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!’

    “There’s no doubt that some people cannot control the urge to gamble and casinos enable these people to lose money at an alarming rate, perhaps ensuring ruin for their family. How can we allow this to happen? Well, how can we allow people to drink, smoke, overeat and whatever.”

    How can we try not to allow the selling/doing of hard drugs? Speeding? Openly buying and selling firearms? Because the potential social ills they bring to society far out weight the benefits of having the freedom to take part in such activities. Casinos, unlike lotto tickets or Pro-Line bets allow individuals to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars within a night very easily. So I invite you to take the bald eagle off your shoulder and see the situation from a more pragmatic lens.

    Having a casino, a train ride away, in comparison to a casino a town over, people naturally will be more inclined to mosey on over to said casino. Please hold your arguments that the casino will not be near residential areas, in a predominantly commercial district. I invite you to look at this map: http://map.toronto.ca/maps/map.jsp?app=ZBL_CONSULT .

    “They can go to an Ontario casino or elsewhere such as Las Vegas. Instead of driving gamblers to illegal online or casinos outside of Ontario, wouldn’t it be better to control and tax it here?”

    You’re right they can, but to think the number of people that commute out of Toronto to gamble would be the same number staying in Toronto to gamble if there was a casino is absurd. The amount of people that commute out of Toronto to gamble, is a fraction of the potential number of gamblers stuck in Toronto casino-less. In other words, if there were to be a casino in Toronto there will be many more people taking part in the activity. With greater exposure to the activity, the greater the chance of someone who otherwise wouldn’t have become an addict, becoming one, due to the ease of being able to frequent one.

    Commuting in the GTA is difficult. Someone who doesn’t have a car isn’t going to particularity excited having to hope on a bus for 45mins for the luxury of gambling their money way. Unless of course, they are addicted to it, something a rational being would want to avoid. The current distance of casinos from Toronto act as a deterrent, saving us from many of the social ills that come along with one.

    “What about casinos? In Ontario, payouts are regulated by the province. By far the most popular gambling form in casinos is the slot machine. Legally these can return no less than 85% but typically are set to 91-93% on average. Roulette (double zero) returns about 94% while card players can see better odds. A skilled blackjack player can achieve a 99% return.”

    Yeah well, there is still a margin for cash loss. 97% of people speeding don’t get into accidents but when the 3% do it results in serious injury or death. I did pull those figures out of the air however; we can agree that just because one has a high success rate, sometimes the implications of failure (losing a pay check, credit score home) out weight the small or sometimes large unproportional gains.

    “However, let’s make sure that Toronto City Council hires a decent negotiator and gets the very best deal for the taxpayer so that in addition to the high paying jobs”

    From the proposal: “An Integrated Resort at Exhibition place would create up to 10,000 new direct jobs (average salary would be $60,000), thousands of construction jobs, and thousands indirect spin off jobs. This economic footprint will have a tremendous positive impact on the current hospitality and entertainment industries in Toronto, as there will be thousands of well paid employees”

    Perhaps we suggest to MGM they guarantee these jobs and salaries are indexed for inflation in a legally binding agreement and see how they respond. I would assume negatively based on the Star article previously posted (http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/03/29/in_toronto_casino_debate_its_time_to_walk_away_from_the_table_olive.html).

    “The new industry practice of fighting its downturn by giving away casino-hotel rooms to the general public and not just heavy bettors jeopardizes jobs at non-casino hotels. Which makes a mockery of the OLG’s claimed 18,000 to 20,000 new full-time jobs from a new Toronto casino. Actually, most of those jobs are part-time and pay a miserly $25,000 or so, near the poverty threshold for a family of four. And the MPI’s research, which is peer-reviewed in contrast to the unverified numbers the casino advocates throw around, show that depending on the size of the gambling facility (and the proposed GTA one would be huge), costs to cities in policing and other taxpayer-funded services run between two to seven times the casino advocates’ claimed civic benefits.”

    Toronto can do better than a casino, imagine having the thousands of young families that frequent the exhibition and waterfront every year having to explain to their children the function of such a socially detrimental eye sore.

    “Let’s face it, there is only one place where a large casino complex can bring the numbers to the table and that is Toronto.”

    Okay Robbie.

  3. My God, Torontonians must be the most pathetic, undiscipled, immature people in the world, definitely in Canada. A quick peak on google shows that there are already many major casinos in Ontario and the rest of Canada. Somehow residents in Niagra Falls, Windsor, Montreal, Halifax, Sydney, Quebec City, Vancouver and other Canadian cities have managed to have casinos without all falling into gambling caused abject poverty. I think we can trust most Torontonians to do the same, besides who are these future intrepid gamblers with the wherewithal to lose thousands of dollars who yet cannot find their way to Casino Rama, or Niagra Falls both easily accessible by subsided buses.

    As to the type of jobs provided by casinos certainly they are no more poorly paid than Walmart employees, yet I did not hear a whimper when one of the greatest exploiters of workers set up shop in Toronto. At least casino employees will be able to subsidies their wages with tips, when was the last time any of us slipped an overworked cashier a fiver.

    In my many years of living in Toronto I have seen the protectors of public morals, those who know best deprive this city of many opportunities to truly become world class. They deprived Toronto of having a yearly formula one race, because there would be too much noise for one week a year, any chance Toronto ever had of hosting the Olympics were dashed by the pathetic band of agitators advocating bread over circuses. Well looking at the state of certain parts of Toronto now, we seem to have neither.

    Opponents of the casino complex need to take a good look at Toronto, aside from an Avalanche of tiny overprice condo projects there seems to be very little being built in our city. We have one of the worst subway systems in a “major” city,compare. It to the Montreal system. Our roads are inadequate and poorly maintained. Since the Skydome opened in 1989 what exciting public venue has been built in Toronto?

    At least the proposed casino will bring some excitement and entertainment to what is presently a dead space past harbour front. The fact that it will have Vegas backing means it will provide top name entertainers with drawing power which will bring more tourists and suburban Torontonians to downtown.

    I hope that the hand wringers and defenders of those who need no defending will not once again ruin an opportunity for Toronto to reenergize itself..

  4. Casinos are an easy (free) bus ride away; we do not need one in Toronto, and we do need jobs that are not dependent on creating more easy dreams of getting-rich-quick.

    The Star article with its thumbs-down from the business analysts says it all: it’s bad for business, stop.

    (Banning Walmart, Target, casinos in Toronto: yes!)

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